Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chewing on election numbers

THE latest salvo in the numbers game in Malaysian politics seems to be quite fascinating — the opposition parties are vying for all 222 parliamentary seats in the next general election, with Pas saying it is targetting to win at least 40 of them.

On top of that, it has been discovered that while most Malaysian Chinese are dissatisfied with the country’s economic policies, the vast majority of Malays feel the government is doing a great job.

Coming in the midst of talk that the elections are around the corner, the figures provide enough fodder for many quarters to chew on.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said last week that there would be a pact of sorts by the opposition with them agreeing that only one candidate will be chosen from among them to stand against Barisan Nasional in each constituency.

"No three-cornered fights. We want to ensure that there will only be one opposition candidate. That is our common stand," she said.

Two days later, Pas vice-president Datuk Husam Musa boldly predicted that his party could win at least 40 parliamentary seats, particularly those in Kelantan, Perak, Kedah and Perlis. For context, it must be remembered that the party won only seven in the last general election and 27 in 1999.

On their own, there’s not much significance in the above statements since they are part of the normal decibel tests in the middle of polls talk.

But pit them against the context of a recent survey by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research and the colour changes a little.

Among the findings of the survey are that Malaysian Chinese are highly dissatisfied with the country’s economic policies: While only 32 per cent of Chinese were satisfied with the government’s handling of the economy, an overwhelming 75 per cent of Malays thought Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s administration was doing a good job.

The first question then would be, if the vast majority of Malays are satisfied with the present administration, how could Pas possibly think of quadrupling or quintupling its seats?

The party is speculating that the elections would be called in November, so much so that its youth wing has been mobilised to focus all efforts in working towards a general election in three months, according to the party’s youth chief Salahuddin Ayub.

But at the same time, if Pas as the main opposition party is only restricting itself to winning about 40 seats, it doesn’t really say much for the opposition’s strength and its perpetual struggle to at least deny the BN its two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

The opposition must win at least 74 seats to achieve that milestone. And assuming Pas can win 40 seats, it would then be up to the DAP and PKR to deliver at least 34 more seats between them.

Looks tough, given the fact that PKR is up against a host of internal problems.

Therefore, a lot of pressure will inevitably fall on the DAP — not only to help fill the gap needed by the opposition to deny the BN the two-thirds, but also to capitalise on the dissatisfaction of the Chinese electorate as indicated by the Merdeka survey.

The DAP, which fared poorly the last time, is seen to be making a grand effort in putting up a more credible line-up by getting new talent which it believes can appeal to young, urban people.

And this, undeniably, will in turn pile even more pressure on the Chinese-based parties in the BN, namely MCA and Gerakan.

MCA, on its part, is also going all out to infuse new, "vibrant" blood in the party.

To add to that, perhaps is the pressure coming from within the coalition itself, the sort that we read in the newspapers two days ago where deputy Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, indirectly referring to MCA and Gerakan, said BN component parties could not regard lightly the findings of the Merdeka survey.

He said the parties should find the causes of Chinese resentment and provide the relevant explanation because, as he put it, "there is nothing that could not be explained".

He said he was not accusing the parties of not doing their part in explaining to the people the findings of the survey, but expressed hope that they would step up efforts since the general election was around the corner.

In this respect, however, some "well-connected" people insist, without elaborating, that the general election is not likely to be within the year since a few things in the government side have yet to be put into place.

But that’s not what it seems on the ground as the atmosphere is really hotting up, given the various political statements made during the ongoing Umno divisional meetings.

A senior Umno official, for instance, has come forward to suggest a consensus-seeking discourse among BN component parties to thrash out, in a closed-door family atmosphere, issues deemed sensitive.

Last week, practically all Umno and BN grassroots leaders converged in Kuantan for a meeting with the deputy prime minister.

And a simple, yet sure sign that the general election is within sight came unexpectedly on Saturday through a primary school principal.

Speaking at the closing of a co-curricular camp at her school in Subang Jaya, the teacher, in the presence of Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who is also Umno Youth chief, said: "I’m glad to inform everyone that this school has also been chosen as a polling centre for the coming election," to the amusement of everyone. (NST, 14/8/2007)

Call not to hold elections during year end due to Haj period

KOTA BARU (NST, 27/9/2007): THE general election should not be held at the end of the year as many Muslims would be performing the Haj. State Exco member Datuk Husam Musa said the rights of pilgrims who were voters should not be denied.

The first plane carrying pilgrims to Mecca is due to depart on November 10.

“It would not be fair to deny them of the right to vote when the general election is held once in five years.”

Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat had also called for the general election not to be held during the Haj season.

ECER cooperation sought with Kelantan

PUTRAJAYA (The Star, 21/9/2007): The Federal Government hopes that the Kelantan Government will cooperate in developing the Eastern Corridor Economic Region (ECER) to ensure that growth in the three east coast states is at par with those in the other states.

“Development of the eastern states is vital as it is the Government’s plan for a balanced and equitable development of the whole nation.

“If development for these states is not given a boost then their growth will be slower than states in the west coast,” said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

He said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who would launch the corridor, would announce targets for employment, investments and growth as well as the major sectors to be developed.

At a press conference in Kota Baru, Kelantan said it welcomed the ECER.

“The state is satisfied with the general development ingredients mooted by Petronas,” said state Finance Planning committee chairman Datuk Husam Musa.

In the long-term, Husam wanted the federal government to consider allowing Kelantan to be the landing point for oil and gas extracted particularly from the nearby Malaysia-Thai Joint Development Area.

The oil and gas sectors are some of the many sectors involved in the development of ECER that would cost RM112bil over a span of 15 years.

Najib, speaking to reporters after witnessing the signing of an agreement between Felda and Indonesia’s PT Kalpataru Investama on the planting of oil palm in East Kalimantan, also commented on the proposed eKesihatan scheme.

He said Cabinet decided to postpone the eKesihatan health screening for commercial vehicle drivers after receiving a lot of protests from various quarters.

“If we want to start a scheme, it has to be agreed by the affected parties; the concept and the requirements have to be fine-tuned to everyone’s satisfaction,” he said.

Najib said ministries that received negative remarks in the Auditor-General’s Report were now dealing with the Treasury.

Forest policy defended

KOTA BARU (NST, 20/9/2007): The Kelantan government yesterday denied allegations that its policies had adversely affected forests in the state.

State executive councillor Datuk Husam Musa, who is also the State Public Administration, Finance, Economic Planning and Community Development Committee chairman said the state government should be credited for protecting the sandalwood industry. He was commenting on Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's statement that development had eaten into forests at the Lojing highlands.

Kelantan defends purchase of 39 new vehicles worth RM4.57m

KOTA BARU (The Star, 14/9/2007): The state government has defended its decision to purchase 39 new vehicles, including 13 imported models, worth RM4.57mil as it was part of the requirements of state agencies and local authorities.

Furthermore, several of the vehicles purchased were second-hand reconditioned models as the state was conscious about not overspending, state financial planning committee chairman Datuk Husam Musa said.

According to him, although it was costly, the purchasing of the vehicles was necessary in view of the allocated rights of a few government agencies. Certain state civil posts are also entitled to their own vehicles, he added.

Husam said this in response to the Auditor-General's Report on the state’s administrative expenses from its 2006 Budget.

The annual audit report cited the purchase of the 39 new vehicles as one of the factors contributing to a higher Budget deficit of RM90.59mil for last year in Kelantan.

The deficit emerged after the state expenses were more than income earned. The state spent RM333.93mil while it merely earned RM243.34mil.

The accummulated fiscal deficit for Kelantan rose from RM241.97mil in 2005 to RM332.56mil for last year.

Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang summarised that the state’s financial status was not steady. He advised the state to undertake a form of austerity spending without compromising on the quality of services and public delivery system.

Ambrin also suggested that the state utilise more Malaysian-made Proton Perdana limousines to save on cost as was done by some state governments and the Federal Government.

Initially, the state executive councillors meetings had approved the purchase of 11 new vehicles worth RM1.29mil but it was later changed, and the state went ahead instead to purchase 39 vehicles at RM4.57mil.

Malaysia is top Asian gambling destination

KUALA LUMPUR (IslamOnline, 19/10/2000) - Aided by government involvement in the industry, the Party Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) is reeling over reports that Malaysia has become one of the top Asian gambling centers.

Parliament member Husam Musa told the legislative body that the government of Malaysia is not only approving gambling licenses, but that it also owns shares in top gambling companies in the country.

Another Parliament member, Abdul Rahman Yusof, today "congratulated" the Federal Government for making Malaysia a favorite destination for gamblers worldwide.

Husam said the shares are in the form of "golden shares" in Sports Toto Malaysia, 5,000 units of ordinary shares in Genting International Limited, 1,334 shares in Resorts World Berhad, 20,000 shares in Berjaya Group and 327,200 shares in Metroplex Berhad.

He added, "The fact that gambling companies in the country have seen an increase in their profit has rendered the National Front [NF] regime's claim that it was implementing Islamic values as nonsensical."

He revealed that Berjaya Sports Toto Berhad, which recorded a pre-tax profit of $110 million in 1998, has seen an almost four-fold rise in pre-tax profit amounting to RM550 million in 1999.

If "the government itself is gambling, how then does one expect it to curb gambling? Gambling is cash rich business for the government, no capital, no bank loans, profit is in huge amount of cash on a daily basis," he said.

Husam charged that the government was the main protector for the gambling industry. In Malaysia, Muslims are not allowed to gamble or to be seen in casinos. The country has one casino in the Genting Highlands, which attracts gamblers from Japan, Singapore, Indonesia and, in particular, the United States.

"People [involved in gambling] can come and go. When their money is exhausted, they can commit suicide," Husam added. Husam was referring to an incident last month in Kuala Lumpur when two ladies jumped to their death from a high-rise apartment building after losing $200,000 gambling.

He said the government should not hide behind the excuse that gambling is part of the Chinese culture and therefore difficult to be stopped.

"This sort of insult must be stopped. It is wrong to link a whole race with a bad habit," he added.

Parliamentarian Abdul Rahman said, "In a Singapore newspaper report this month, a businessman, Chen Lip Keong, chairman of Lipkland Group, who owns Ariston Sdn Bhd a company registered in Malaysia, has been reportedly planning to invest $1 billion in the construction of a casino complex, the largest in Asia, in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

"This entrepreneur is close to the top leaders of this country, and this only shows his activities have received our leaders' blessings," he said.

Abdul Rahman said in the newspaper report that Chen was quoted as saying that he was making a profit out of the "Asians" addiction to gambling.

Rahman said that if indeed Asians are addicted to gambling, Malaysia, as a Muslim country, should make efforts to cure the disease and not allow any of its companies to take advantage of this disease.

The Islamic-orientated party, PAS, banned all forms of gambling in the two states it controls, Kelantan and Terengganu. The PAS believes that gambling can be controlled, and eventually eradicated, in the country by imposing strict bans on its activities and by shutting down gambling operators.

The Chinese community of Malaysia, however, argues that gambling is part and parcel of their tradition and that to ban it completely will be an offence to the community at large.

In the Philippines, the President Joseph Estrada is facing serious challenges of participation and cover up operations in illegal gambling operations. Millions of U.S. dollars may have been paid to Estrada and his colleagues.

Former President Corazon Aquino called on Estrada to consider resigning over the illegal gambling allegations. The Philippines government has banned all gambling, official and non-official, in a bid to clear Estrada's name in the scandal.

In Malaysia however, gambling is officially recognized.

"The two Parliamentarians must have showed lots of guts to denounce the regime of Mahathir over this issue," Ahmad Damha of Stopinjustice told IslamOnline.

Can BN Wrest Kelantan From PAS?

KOTA BAHARU, Sept 13 (Bernama) - It has been almost 17 years since PAS came into power in Kelantan and the people of the state have got use to the opposition party's rule anchored on the Islamic tenets.

While there is still no clear indication on the date for the 12th general election and the current mandate of the government extends to April 2009, one thing for sure is that political pundits have already started estimating Barisan Nasional's (BN) chances on turning the tide against PAS.

Umno shoulders BN's challenge in Kelantan and the party is well aware of the Herculean task ahead in ending PAS' domination. One thing for sure PAS has seen stable leadership in the state through its Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat despite its one seat majority while Umno has recaptured loss grounds.

However, political pundits are cautious in determining the odds for BN and PAS especially knowing well the Kelantan electorate is different compared to the rest of the country. What more when they literally gave BN a 39-0 knockout in the 1990 general election.


As for the record, after losing all the state seats in the 1990 election, BN gained some grounds in the following general election in 1995 with seven state assembly seats and two Parliament seats but in the 1999 elections BN was trounced again leaving it with two state seats and a Parliament seat.

Nevertheless, BN finally began seeing light at the end of the tunnel in the 2004 election. In a surprising turn of events BN considered the underdog won 21 out of the 45 state seats and eight of the 14 Parliament seats in Kelantan.

Though BN still failed to acquire the majority to form the state government, at the least it emerged as a credible opposition party in the state. Also for once Umno's presence was felt in the Kelantanese political landscape after a long hiatus.

PAS' majority was further narrowed down following BN's success in wresting the Pengkalan Pasir state seat in the by-election in Dec 2005 leaving BN with 22 seats and PAS with 23.

Yet PAS remained unfazed with the single seat majority. While some political observers started the countdown for the end of PAS' reign, Nik Abdul Aziz and his party held firmly to power and its obvious that they would continue until the next election.

For any political observer the question remains whether BN is really capable of taking on the iconic Nik Aziz, the PAS' spiritual head and a towering figure in Kelantan. There is a local saying that as long as Nik Aziz is there PAS will rule.


It is an open secret that BN's defeat in Kelantan in the 1990 general election was due to internal bickering and Umno's splinter party Semangat 46 headed by a former Umno strongman in the state Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah that split the votes. The effects of the party's internal problem continued until the 1995 general election.

Nonetheless in the 1999 election, the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the deputy prime minister's post in 1998 and the events that followed prompted the electorate to denounce BN.

However in the 2004 general election, BN came close to creating a surprise.

"Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's `Mr Clean' image was the factor that won the hearts of the Kelantanese who voted for BN," said an Umno veteran from Machang, Kamal Che Pa, 72.

He related that Abdullah who took over from his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in late 2003 also exemplified good Islamic characteristics.

"That is why a big number of Kelantanese voted for BN, which almost defeated PAS," he said.


To win back the people's confidence, Umno has gone the extra mile in convincing the electorate that it can provide a better alternative for PAS.

"Umno headed by its state liaison chief Datuk Seri Annuar Musa has done `all that is necessary' to woo the people, and BN will wrest the state assembly mandate from PAS.

"I can see that the momentum for Umno and BN is increasing and there is no reason why we can't unseat PAS this time," said Annuar.

In winning over the people, BN is banking on "Manhaj Islam Hadhari" or the Islam Hadhari approach.

Umno also took note of Terengganu's `Blue Wave' campaign that brought down PAS' administration in the state and came up with the `Kelantan Baru' campaign with the same goal.


If the good attendance in programmes organised by Umno is anything to go by, then BN has a good chance of turning the tide against PAS.

Yet for PAS, the changing tide failed to bother its leadership and instead a senior leader of the party voiced his confidence that PAS would win more than 40 Parliament seats at the expense of BN.

PAS' Vice President Datuk Husam Musa said his assumption was based on the increasing support for PAS because the people had enough with Umno and BN. Nik Aziz too shared the same optimism.

Nik Aziz contended that there is no reason why the people should reject PAS because the party has done the best for the people and has never betrayed them.


A Kelantan resident, Asri Yaakub, 42, is still confident that the people in the state would remain loyal to the leadership of ulama.

"It's better to support PAS because we the people of Kelantan are getting all that we never enjoyed during BN's rule in Kelantan," said the goldsmith.

It's true, that the Kelantanese should be thankful to the federal government that has promised billions of ringgit especially for the East Cost Corridor to be launched by Abdullah after Aidilfitri.

Presently, there are many projects under the Ninth Malaysia Plan in the implementation stages and visitors to Kelantan would be surprised to see the development there.

The prime minister recently announced the construction of the second bridge across Sungai Kelantan costing RM143 million and is expected to be ready in two years time. A new highway worth billions linking Kota Baharu and Kuala Krai is also on the way.


Asri's view is also shared by Umno veteran Tan Sri Hussein Ahmad who is sceptical on BN's chances of capturing Kelantan.

Hussein is of the view that there are many more things that BN must rectify beforehand if it's to win over the people.

"No doubt that Umno has made inroads but it is still not good enough for the party to come into power and no doubt what I'm saying may offend many but this is the reality that Umno has to accept," said Hussein who was the former state Umno information chief.

He claimed that the continuing internal bickering has been a cause of concern for the state Umno.

Hussein also noted that the Kelantanese were looking for "Mr Clean" to administer their beloved state and BN would receive cold shoulders if it is still hounded by internal problems.

Hussein exemplified that "PAS is not strong but it is actually Umno that is weak".

Regardless what Hussein says, the chances of PAS or BN ruling Kelantan at the end of the day is still open for debate.

Kelantan To Review Maternity Leave

KOTA BAHARU, Sept 5 (Bernama) - Kelantan is also reviewing the maternity leave for working women in the state civil service, said Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.

However, he said the state government was not planning to adopt wholesale the federal government's extension of the unpaid maternity leave from 90 days to five years.

"In principle, we agree on the proposal for it would benefit working women who needed the rest. Kelantan will review the leave.

"However, we have yet to make any decision as we have not received the papers on the matter," he told reporters after chairing the state Executive Councillors meeting here Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Monday announced the extension of the unpaid maternity leave to enable working women to give more attention to care for their children.

The leave could be broken up and taken several times but the total must not exceed five years.

Kelantan Public Service, Economic Planning, Finance and Development Committee chairman Datuk Husam Musa said there was no need for the unpaid maternity leave to be extended to five years as two years would be sufficient to mothers to breastfeed their babies.

"Our proposals include extending the paid maternity leave from two months to 90 days either with full pay, half pay or quarter pay.

"This does not mean we favour very long unpaid leave as working women would be without income for a long time. We are also planning to introduce paid `edah' leave (for widows)," he said.

He said the announcement on the revised leave would be made soon.

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